Monday, August 23, 2010

The Water Heater

In my titling of this week's blog entry, I just couldn't muster up clever.  So the heading stands.

I've come to realize that everything comes in "twos."  At least, it does for the purpose of building a portable home on wheels.  Now, it may be that since I have only two consecutive days each week devoted entirely to construction, that I force myself to accomplish tasks in a timely manner.  Or, the adverse could be true, that I know I've got two days so I can work at a pace below par.  I'm not sure, because I lack any sort of bench mark against which I might measure performance.  My hunch, though, is that the latter is true.  Also, a trip to Home Depot is worth roughly two hundred smackers, just about every time, without fail. 

That being said, I'll get right into this past weekend's festivities.   

I started with a box.  Yes, you're on the edge of your seat.

For those not in the know, all propane powered appliances that operate within a confined space must be sealed from the inside, so that any potential wayward gas cannot contaminate the living quarters.  Under most circumstances, this means that refrigerators, water heaters and furnaces are enclosed in their own boxes that are accessible only from outside the vehicle via an access door and are vented to the outside, as well.  

Due to multiple restrictions and considerations, I've decided to make my water heater accessible from inside the vehicle.  My decision is based largely on the fact that the water heater operates "on demand," which means it only throws the burner on when water surges through it.  Which also means that it will only be on momentarily during a shower or when I'm using the sink.  And, by default, I will be awake while it operates.  A flip of a switch will turn off the water heater when not in use and a remote solenoid will seal off the propane when it is not needed.  The bottom of the sealed water heater locker will have ventilation to allow any potentially leaking gas to escape, as propane gas is heavier than oxygen.

First, I cracked open my trusty can of Henry's Roofing sealant.  It's flexible, durable, water proof and non-flammable. 

An artist at work


And there's the first layer of aluminum. 

So, there's the box completely sealed in with aluminum.  I treated the corners with a generous helping of Henry's 900 and angle pieces. 

I then made the cross beams that will hold the heater.

Just have to add the lid...

My girl took such a cool picture, I just had to take a few moments with photoshop.

My propaganda campaign.

The front will be screwed in with a tight lining of weather seal all the way around. 

And, a flip-up access door will also get a layer of rubber seal.

As I said, I will be cutting some holes in the bottom for water and propane access.  Those will also serve as ventilation for any wayward gas. 

The hole on the backside of the locker will vent the heat to the outside.  I have a stainless steel grommet on order that will add a nice cosmetic finish to the hole from outside the vehicle and that will also bridge the gap between the wall and the box, thereby allowing that heat to head only in one direction -- out.  Basically, all vent connections heading outward are first male then female.  That way, the heat is always guided through the metal tubing and not out through a seam.   

Along with an additional interior floor vent and a CO2 detector, I believe I've covered my bases.

So what's for dinner after a long hard couple of days of scheming and problem solving?  I'm glad you asked.  My girl is an awesome cook and I'm the luckiest guy alive.  We'll be camping, in no time!



  1. Hi,

    Looking good there.

    I'd be quite interested in learning more about where you're finding the regs that require enclosure on propane appliances. I'm not aware of any new commercial RVs that follow that requirement, and certainly not any of those that I've owned (or the Roadtrek I currently own).

    It would be quite difficult to adhere to that when installing a cooktop or oven. Tank type water heaters and furnaces come ready to slide into a hole on the side of the rig requiring only gas hookup (and electrical) and they're ready to go. Same with refrigerators. The appliances are accessed from the outside of the rig but they're not in a sealed interior enclosures.

    I fit propane systems to boats and it's not a requirement on a boat, which is usually thought to be a bit less forgiving than an RV.

    Not that it's a bad idea and I certainly think you should do it if it raises your comfort level (after all, that's why we custom build) but I do question the legal requirement.

    This is in no way meant to be critical...I want to learn as much as the next person and I'm always trying to do so.

    All the best,


  2. Hey Les,

    I believe the appliances you are referring to are already sealed and only vent from the outside. I didn't mean that they would then need to be placed in another container. I believe that furnaces and water heaters are already built into a sealed box that's part of the construction.

    Nonetheless, my research has found that there is no official code for rv construction. But there is the RVIA or Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, a membership body of manufacturers who adhere to a certain standard when constructing their rigs. I bought the pamphlet that they publish and it had no official code or regulation for any aspect of RV construction. Most of it was just common sense. I called the membership office in Washington D.C. and the director said that the only thing that really matters from a legal standpoint when constructing an RV is the designation given by the Department of Motor Vehicles. If you're registered as a "house car" here in California, then you're afforded all of the benefits of any RV manufacturer. You can then get better insurance rates, etc. So, when I'm done, I'll drive my vehicle over to my local DMV office to get my registration classification switched over.

    I just want to err on the side of "overbuilt" because I know that vibration will shake down any sort of construction, pretty darned fast. And, I never want anyone to question my own common sense when it comes to safety.

    Thanks for the comments. I do appreciate any info and advice, as I want to do this once, and I want to do it right.

  3. Just wanted to give you a shout.
    You are quiet a craftsman.

    Love the term, "My girl".

    And the propaganda poster is too funny.
    Perhaps I will print a few hundred out to distribute. LOL...

  4. My son and I are regular followers of your blog and are totlly enjoying the building proces. Keep up the good work and attion to detail. The home is going to be fabulous.

  5. Charles -- Thanks for the kind words. Please print as many as you'd like. I hope to see my posters plastered on construction site board-ups, 20 across, throughout America!

    Drew -- Sometimes I lose faith. I really appreciate the encouragement.

  6. I'm amazed. How in the world do you guys LEARN this stuff? I love the "vision" of the interior. And...dinner looks great!

  7. Barbara. Believe it or not, it's all about experience (i.e. mistakes). Also, lots and lots of reading -- books, internet, etc. There is a first for everything -- swinging a hammer, using a table saw, building a box. Start small and work your way outward and up. And, the spaghetti was a rich and tasty! I hope I can attain that "vision" when it's all said and done.

  8. Hey Rob, as always, your attention to detail and creativity are showing, well done! I agree completely with the idea of overbuilding to err on the side of caution. Wouldn't be a good feeling to have any doubts about this kind of project! You should be able to sleep quite soundly :)

    97 RT 170 "Taj Ma Trek"

  9. Mike,

    I'm glad you agree. I've discovered firsthand, with varying degrees of emotion, just how much abuse a vehicle and its multitude of parts and pieces will tolerate before splitting apart at the seams.

  10. Thanks for replying to my comment and thanks too for the additional information.

    It's a great project (especially since I've always secretly coveted a Step Van) and you're doing a stellar job. I'm really looking forward to following your build.


  11. Les,

    Much appreciated. Keep the comments coming!

  12. Ah - it's like a foreign language....are you sure you're not actually my engineering husband living a double life with Family 2 in the US?

    If it IS you, can you pls bring me back some Chanel nail polish when you fly back to Family 1 in Scotland?

    Great project!

    Ali x

  13. Ali,

    Yes, the language of science can be as foreign to some as the launguage of poetry. I try to be well-versed. And, speaking of foreign languages and double lives, don't all the secret agents come from Scotland?

    As far as returning home, goes -- I've traveled far and wide to find my girl, and I think I am finally home. :)

    Thank you very much for the comment and kind words.

  14. Wow, you are definitely good at this! The hole is a great idea. This can definitely be a vent for the wayward gas. The picture that your girl took is so awesome. It's actually good enough to be a book cover. =)